YOU HAVE TO believe me when I say I really had no intention of writing an essay about Sherri Papini. My website is supposed to be about the misdeeds and shenanigans of the critter variety, with an occasional rambler on Bach and piano — not crime reporting and missing persons cases.
But as I sat in the Trader Joe’s parking lot a couple of nights ago, directly across the road from the Best Buy where Sherri’s husband Keith works, something kept gnawing at me and wouldn’t go away, something that said conjecture and speculation is okay — and that maybe it’s even necessary.
So today, on the heels of some quiet airwaves since my September essay, I’m posting a barn dance of a different sort and throwing some dung at the mysterious disappearance and subsequent release of Sherri Papini.
And should I offend Sherri or her family, or my small band of subscribers, I’m really sorry about that, but sometimes you just have to go there.
Comments were never enabled on my website, for good reason, and I don’t post photos, ever. But you are more than welcome to send me a note and share your thoughts.
RAISE YOUR PAW or wave a hoof if you haven’t heard about Sherri Papini’s November 2nd disappearance. Now, excuse me for a brief moment while I consult my crystal flower vase, since I can’t actually see you.
Who has a crystal ball? I sure don’t.
Okay, just as I thought. No raising or waving or movement of any kind. But for the odd aardvark out there, Part One of this series was written just for you. It’s mostly a bare bones summary of Sherri’s disappearance, prior to her mysterious release on Thanksgiving Day — and by bare bones, I mean a near deafening silence of nothingness, aside from a few odd screws. No foundation, rafters, roof or insulation.
But I suppose that’s all you can expect from an ongoing investigation involving a missing person.
Sherri, a beautiful 34-year-old mother of two young children, went out for a jog in her rural Mountain Gate neighborhood here in Northern California and never came home. Early that evening, her husband Keith drove home from work to an empty house and panicked when he couldn’t find his wife or children.
He called the daycare and learned his kids were still there, which never, ever happens, and then he tracked Sherri’s iPhone to a patch of dirt on the shoulder of a neighboring road. He found the phone, earbuds and three strands of her long blond hair and nothing more.
Mountain Gate, I should note, has been widely referred to in the media as a town, but it’s unincorporated; the people who live there have a Redding address. This is why some news sources mention Redding when discussing her case.
When Sean Longoria at the local paper broke the story on Sherri’s disappearance later that night, the town exploded like it had just come down with an intestinal disease, and in less than 24 hours news of Redding’s missing “supermom” spread across the nation and even overseas.
Redding has a crime problem — I dare you to lift this town’s petticoat and see what’s underneath — and several people throughout Shasta County and neighboring areas are registered as missing. But apparently Sherri’s disappearance was different in just the right way, and boy does different sell.
A gorgeous, petite, blond haired, blue eyed mother of two adorable kids had been abducted doing something thousands of women do alone every day: She went for a run on the streets in her own neighborhood. And Sherri wasn’t the only one who didn’t come home. Female joggers in other states had gone missing this year, too, and three had been found shot dead.
News sources speculated that a serial killer may be targeting beautiful, young women. But here in Redding, I don’t think the fear we were feeling was intensified by the prospects of a serial asshole on the loose. When something like this happens, there tends to be a standing assumption that the same person could do it again, and soon, and so women stopped jogging alone, children were kept inside, and entire neighborhoods folded up as soon as the sun went down.
But this didn’t stop people from banding together and doing everything they could to find Sherri Papini. Law enforcement reached out to local registered sex offenders near Sherri’s home, multiple searches were quickly organized, and gobs of missing person fliers were posted around town. I even saw one in the drive-thru window at Starbucks just down the road from our home and a few blocks from the family’s Catholic church.
And Nor-Cal Alliance For The Missing created a Help Find Sherri Papini Facebook page (now pulled down) as a gathering place for public engagement and a clearinghouse for updates. But nothing new was reported, just recycled content and an occasional video clip of the family, pleading for her safe return — and sometimes days would go by without any statements, or elaborations on previously released information, from law enforcement.
It was like Swanson’s was serving up the news in tidy, pre-packaged trays. In the back left corner, next to the peas and carrots, was, “We have loads of tips but no leads, and it’s pouring farm animals today, so don’t forget your umbrella.” The twenty search warrants they couldn’t discuss were tucked alongside the meatloaf, and for dessert we got lumpy pudding and “Please respect the family’s privacy.”
Okay, I have to say something. This is really brash, and I would never say this to someone in person, because I’m actually quite nice. But right now I’m in my den. I’m a bear that’s a moose in my den, and cats are packed all around me, and I’m hungry and too cold to move, and, well, I’m going to hide behind my computer and be brash.
When a gorgeous supermom mysteriously vanishes, her family’s privacy vanishes, too. It’s just not there anymore. That safe little island that was once their life blows wide open — and suddenly there are ships with pirate flags anchored in their harbor and cameramen swimming for shore. It sucks; it’s not fair. They never asked for this, and I’m honestly quite sorry for my participation by writing this essay.
But people want and deserve to know what happened, and that right there pretty much shoots privacy in the keister.
And when we only have bread crumbs to ponder and some truly bizarre discoveries that were unearthed by armchair sleuths — the topic of a forthcoming essay in this series — it’s unreasonable to expect the media and the town of Redding, and the whole dang world for that matter, to just quietly sit on our sphincter holes, chewing regurgitated cud.
Forgive me the tautology (the best word ever) and the rant. Anyway, back to baking biscuits.
On the day that marked two weeks since Sherri had been abducted, Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko decided to appease the public when he rather ineloquently advised everyone, as quoted in the Record Searchlight, that “there should not be a panic.”
Well, I’m not panicking, thank you very much. I’m old, fat and ugly. But who’s to say there aren’t sex traffickers that specialize in women with saggy boobs and chin hairs?
Sheriff Bosenko meant well, I’m sure, but the poor guy sunk that dinghy even further when he said, “If this was an abduction, it’s really rare. We don’t have any indication, any evidence to say it was or wasn’t.”
In other words, don’t panic because it’s not going to happen to you or your loved ones, although it did just happen to someone else’s loved one, right here in Redding — and by the way, this amazing supermom very well could have vanished by her own choosing.
It was a possibility law enforcement had to consider, but it was mentioned often enough that we were starting to get kind of sore around the collar, and by we I mean just about everyone who had been closely following this case on the Find Sherri Facebook page and posting comments.
Sherri’s husband Keith and her sister Sheila Koester repeatedly said she would never abandon her children or husband, not ever, and we absolutely believed them — and I’m guessing most of us still do. She had been, they tearfully declared, abducted, and please treat this case accordingly.
One teeny snafu in all of this: The California Department of Justice’s official designation for Sherri’s disappearance was “Voluntary missing adult,” since absolutely no evidence had been found to indicate foul play. Those three hair strands her husband found with her phone and earbuds? We lose tons of hair every day, and as Yoda would say, three a crime scene does not make.
But to throw a “voluntary missing” label at her was stupidly misleading (leave my adverbs alone), not to mention distracting. So the Record Searchlight, and then the Sheriff’s office, pursued this with the DOJ, and just like that Sherri’s disappearance was reclassified as a missing persons case with “suspicious circumstances,” and we collectively sighed in relief.
High five for public outcry and the victory that ensued.
Sherri was still missing, though, and her husband was an emotional wreck. Despite some rather grandiose “psychic revelations” from the Greek chorus that declared Keith was responsible for his wife’s disappearance, on November 9th the Sheriff’s office announced that Keith had passed a polygraph test and had been cleared of any involvement in this case.
In the weeks that followed, not much more was revealed, at least not from the family or law enforcement. Yes, that was a hint of things to come.
And then on Thanksgiving Day, early in the wee morning hours, Sherri was found alive, and just like that we were thanking the yellow balloon gods for her mysterious but safe return and celebrating community and family and Sherri’s miraculous reunion with her husband and children.
SHERRI PAPINI WAS brutalized during the three weeks she was gone, as I’m sure you’ve heard. She is a victim, regardless of whether some disturbing revelations from her past are true or are in any way connected to what happened to her.
As for that dank, dastardly bother known as speculation, here’s how I responded when someone suggested it’s best to remain silent: “Speculation makes people think, it keeps them smart, and it keeps them safe.”
Yoda says it even better: “Subhuman you are not, you ballsy seeker of truth.”
By the way, did you know subhuman was a term favored by Hitler? I believe the German word is untermensch.
But I digress.
And on that note, folks, be sure to subscribe to my essays if you would like to be notified of the next installation in this most unexpected of series.
Thank you and adieu.
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